Sobriquets for scholars

Graduation

  Back to school As September begins, campus quads around the world once again teem with bewildered freshmen, a word first used of a university student at Cambridge over 500 years ago. In the half millennium since, the number of terms for university and college students has proliferated like a new student’s Facebook friends, and […]

It’s raining; it’s pouring

Storm in NYC

Much, if not all, of the East Coast of the United States was subject to a good drenching last week, courtesy of Hurricane Irene (which might be viewed as an odd name for a storm, given that it shares an etymological root with irenic). Consequently, we who live in that area have been pummeled not […]

Kawaii Japanese for everyday life

Sushi

The English language is no stranger to being infiltrated by loan words from other languages. As far back as the days of Old English, when there was enormous influence from the Viking invaders, English has always found room for new words and more ways to express similar concepts (e.g. maternal and motherly) and this continues […]

principal

Principle or principal?

It’s very easy to confuse these two words. Although they sound the same when they’re spoken, their meanings are quite different. Here are two sentences in which the wrong choice has been made: X The principle aim of the initiative is to make art accessible to everyone. X There are too many designers who do […]

Read more »

How Shakespearean are you?

How Shakespearean are you?

The words of Shakespeare are still held, nearly 400 years after his death, to be some of the most poetic ever written and his influence on modern English is indisputable. Contributions such as pound of flesh (Merchant of Venice) and green-eyed monster (Othello) are fairly well-known, but did you know that he was the first […]

Read more »

Shifted meanings: flash mob

Pillow Fight

Flash mob is a relatively recent addition to Oxford Dictionaries Online. The phrase is defined in the World English version of the dictionary as “a public gathering of complete strangers, organized via the Internet or mobile phone, who perform a pointless act and then disperse again”, and with somewhat more brevity in the US version […]

Trout pout, misery memoir, and Nollywood: ODO quarterly update August 2011

Talking dog

Every quarter, we update the current English dictionary in Oxford Dictionaries Online with new words and meanings that have made it into common usage. For this update, we’ve added dozens of words, from aha moment to yuck factor. You might do a fist pump (on your own) or a more subtle fist bump (with someone […]

prescriptive or descriptive

To describe or prescribe, that is the question (with apologies to Shakespeare)

Regular readers of this blog may remember a recent poll in which we posed the following question: Do you think dictionaries should: Describe language as it is being used Prescribe how language should be used Be a mixture of prescriptive and descriptive The results were as follows: 70.27 % were in favour of a mixture, […]

Tweets